Born in Chester, England on March 22, 1846, Randolph Caldecott, the British artist and illustrator, made an indelible mark in the world of children’s book publishing during his short life, having died just shy of his 40th birthday on February 12, 1886. This is why, in 1937, at the suggestion of Frederic G. Melcher, the American Library Association established The Randolph Caldecott Medal.
I’m sure that if I had properly attended art school and focused on illustration, I would’ve long ago known more about Randolph Caldecott. During my research, I discovered his artistic skills and innovation to be remarkable, especially considering the time period in which his picture books were printed. The ideal pairing of Caldecott as an illustrator, and Edmund Evans as engraver and printer, resulted in high-quality books that were—and still are—more than impressive. Caldecott’s work was so outstanding at that time, it is said that Beatrix Potter’s father purchased Caldecott originals to inspire his daughter.
There is good reason the most famous, esteemed and coveted award for children’s picture book illustration bears the name of Randolph Caldecott. As Maurice Sendak admirably states in The Randolph Caldecott Treasury, Caldecott’s first works in illustration, rendering pictures for Mother Goose nursery rhymes in a style never having been done before, gave birth to what we know as the modern picture book.
Most of us have clear memories from childhood of the picture books we loved, regardless of how long ago that was. A beauty of the picture book format is that it is timeless. Whether as a child, teenager or adult, regardless of our age we can enjoy picture books. It is timeless, yet again, when we as parents, relatives, friends, teachers and librarians, create new, treasured memories with and for the children in our lives. Each time we read and share these books, we continue that precious legacy.
You don’t have to be a children’s picture book author or illustrator to appreciate the value of the work of Randolph Caldecott. You only need to be a reader who appreciates the great gift of the format he essentially invented back in 1878. Thanks to his artistic talents, those of the printers who reproduced his art, and the long line of authors, illustrators and publishing houses since then, thousands of picture books have garnered the shelves of libraries, bookstores and homes. They will continue to be an enjoyed and treasured art form for generations to come.
These two stunning illustrations appear in Caldecott’s
THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT.
For up-to-date lists of: Caldecott Medalist and Honor Books
To learn more about this extraordinary man’s life, loves, co-creators and works, there are many books available. Here are a select few:
The Randolph Caldecott Treasury selected and edited by Elizabeth T. Billington with an appreciation by Maurice Sendak.
In this 287-page book, you’ll not only find pages of heartfelt praise by Maurice Sendak, but a step back in time as Elizabeth T. Billington traces Caldecott’s footsteps from childhood on. This book contains photographs in which you can see the reference for much of Caldecott’s artwork, along with a vast amount of sketches, book illustrations, and fine art. These include work prior to his turning to picture book illustration through to his last sketch; it was drawn shortly before he passed away while touring America with his wife, Marian. This book is a treasury.
Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing by Leonard S. Marcus.
This is a large book, beautifully written by Leonard S. Marcus, a children’s book historian, author and critic. It is an easy and enjoyable read filled with colorful details about a remarkably talented man. Many of the most choice illustrations dapple the pages in relatively large scale, making this a pleasure to flip through, even just to take in the art itself.
Randolph Caldecott’s Picture Books reproduced from nineteenth-century copies in the Huntington collection, Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
Published by Huntington Library Press, this chunky book made with heavy paper stock contains 9 of Caldecott’s most popular stories, featuring crisp facsimiles of the books’ original pages.
Randolph Caldecott: ‘Lord of the Nursery’ by Rodney K. Engen.
As an authority on illustrators of the Victorian era, Engen has not only written about Caldecott’s life and works, but compiled a wide variety of well-known pieces with those not-so-well known. This stunning book contains many full-page replicas, not only from his book illustration, but of Caldecott’s other artwork, including rarely-seen personal correspondence often adorned with sketches, illustrations for various periodicals, and sculpture.
RANDOLPH CALDECOTT SOCIETIES: